SRR Team Bio: University of Pennsylvania Space, Mobile and Autonomous Robotics Team
TEAM: University of Pennsylvania Space, Mobile and Autonomous Robotics Team
Members: 10 core members
Team Captain: Jonas Cleveland

Robot Name: USMART's robot, ENVOY2, is the second incarnation of a robot -- ENVOY -- that was developed to compete in the 2011 NASA Revolutionary Aerospace Systems Concepts-Academic Linkage competition (RASC-AL). The acronym for the autonomous terrestrial exploration rover stands for Exploration and Navigation Vehicle for geolOgY.

The Road to Robotics: The USMART team began informally, with a gathering of students who shared an interest in robotics. Though the group didn’t become official until February of this year, the core group has been meeting informally since last fall.

They scheduled a few info sessions to gauge interest, unsure of what to expect. Around 20 folks came, but team captain Jonas Cleveland said they didn't think the momentum would last. "We expected people to stop showing up. (But) the group just kept on growing," he said.

The team has about 10 active core members who have been focusing on the Sample Return Robot challenge, most of them graduate students and two working toward their doctorates. Members devote their personal time to the team. "There’s not course credit -- it's all about their passion," Cleveland said. "We decided that we wanted to be a part of something this big. You only have the opportunity to do that a couple of times in your career."

Entering Centennial Challenges: After competing in the RASC-AL competition last year, the team was at dinner with members from the Worcester Polytechnic Institute team, which is hosting this year's Sample Return Robot challenge. There, they learned about the competition. The team decided they would enter and make it their next club project.

Team Strategy: "Our target is level one," Cleveland said, in which each team has 15 minutes to retrieve pre-cached samples. The team has made improvements to ENVOY2 and hopes the robot will at least pass the first round of challenges, confident that if it gets that far, they'll perform well in level two. "There are environmental factors that you really can't test," he said, until they arrive at the actual event. "I'm eager to press the start button."

Dividing the Workload: The team breaks down the labor into areas of interest. One group focuses on acquisition, developing the method for which the robot will scoop or pick up objects. Another team concentrates on localization, handling the mapping navigation capabilities. A third team handles object recovery methods. The entire team gathers for a weekly meeting to check in, and the subgroups handle their work on their own schedule.

Facing Challenges: "This is a student project," Cleveland said. "We haven't really had a dedicated space where we can build and work." To that end, the members are also forced to balance project responsibilities with heavy loads of coursework and academic projects for their academic careers. "It's been a task to keep people on development schedule," he said.

Looking Toward the Competition: The team is anxious to test their robot on the actual playing field and to see how other groups have addressed the challenge. "I'm looking forward to seeing where the state of the field is," Cleveland said. "Something like this has never really been done before."

If I Had a Million Dollars...: "I think we'd donate a portion back to GRASP (the General Robotics, Automation, Sensing & Perception laboratory at the university)," Cleveland said, so that they can take part in outreach efforts and help the USMART team. A new car wouldn't hurt, either, he added.

Find this article at: